A reminder that aviation can be a deadly business – NC 854S, G-BGEW

I was sorting through some photographs of past aviation events, when I came upon this pretty example of an NC 854S, G-BGEW, at the Great Vintage Flying Weekend, which was held at the former RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire (now an Army base, known as Dalton Barracks) in 2004. The Societe de Constructiones Aeronautique du Nord, produced this type in the 1950s as the ultimate development of a family of light aircraft which had been used as AOP and communications types for the French military and as an economical club aircraft for many European flying clubs.  Built in 1950, and powered by the ubiquitous Continental A65-8 of 65hp, G-BGEW was a fixture on the British light aviation scene after being imported from France (where it was F-BFSJ).

Sadly, on the 20th September, 2009, G-BGEW crashed at Whistler’s Farm, Tangley, Hampshire, shortly after taking off from the grass strip at Bourne Park, Andover. The pilot had intended to fly to a private strip near Swindon, before carrying on to Popham. There was a fierce fire following the crash, and most of the aircraft structure was destroyed. Both the occupants were killed. A thorough investigation was carried out at the scene by the Air Accident Investigation Branch of the UK Department of Transport.

Several major factors came to light. As originally manufactured in 1950, the aircraft had been fitted with a Minie 4DC30 rated at 80hp, then in 1960s with a Continental C90-14F (putting out about 95hp), and finally, in 1973, with the Continental A65-8 of 65hp. As well as this, modifications (along with attendant growth in weight) included a self-starter, battery, generator and electrical fuel pump. As you might surmise, therefore, the aircraft’s  performance when compared to the original ‘build state’ would have been somewhat degraded.

The real problem, however, lay with the engine exhaust manifolds. These were in a relatively poor state, with evidence of delamination of the exhaust gaskets, and accompanying ‘blow back’. As well as degrading performance during the critical take-off phase, this would have given rise to high concentrations of carbon monoxide in the cockpit, as shown by post-mortem samples from both of the deceased. In essence, the occupants were incapacitated prior to the actual crash.

As well as a warning to all who undertake their own aircraft maintenance, it is a sad reminder to those of us who have professional contact with aviation, that we lose friends and colleagues far too often. Aviation remains a great joy, but can become a dangerous undertaking in the blink of an eye.

Oh, and as an aside, I have just noticed that my dear friend Arthur Ord-Hume can be seen on the left of this photograph, judging a Luscome 8 Silvaire as part of the Concours D’Elegance at GVFWE, Abingdon.




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